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First Two Greek Varietals in California

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Monks of the Trappist-Cistercian order stroll the vineyard at New Clairvaux Monks of the Trappist-Cistercian order stroll the vineyard at New Clairvaux

By Darrell Corti

When was the last time you could say that you were at the “first” of anything?

Well, here is your chance to taste the first of two white varietals from Greece, grown and produced in California. They are the Assyrtiko and Moschofilero of the Abbey of New Claivaux, at Vina, in Tehama County, two hours north of Sacramento.

The Abbey of New Clairvaux is a Trappist monastery, a daughter foundation of the noted Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky. Founded in 1955, it is felicitously located on what was the Leland Stanford vineyard and winery at Vina. In the 1880s, this was the largest winery building (2 acres under roof) and vineyard (some 3,800 acres) in the world. The original cellar is still used by the monks, partially as the winery itself. When constructed it was made with great care and thought to be, for its time, a “green” building, insulated from the torrid heat of the region. When Stanford originally planted his vineyard, the varieties were all wrong, mainly Germanic ones which cooked in the heat of this area, which is a Region 5 on the Regions 1 to 5 Winkler scale. Then, not much was known about degree days and wine quality.

About 1999, the monks decided to convert a small part of their walnut and prune orchards to vineyard to revive Stanford’s idea. Later, they were made aware of the possibility of getting planting material from UC Davis that was from similar areas in Greece.

Assyrtiko is the white variety from the island of Santorini, which is hot and the variety has very good acidity, making a balanced wine in a hot area.

Moschofilero is a scented white variety, actually a family of grapes, that comes from the top of the southern part of Greece, the Peloponnesus. The first bottling of Assyrtiko was the 2015. Very few cases were made. The very first vintage bottled of Moschofilero is the 2016.

When the 2015 Assrytiko was tasted with the group of Santorini producers in San Francisco in 2016, there were two reactions: One, “This is better, more typical assyrtiko than is made in other parts of Greece.” The other: “What we have competition!”

The entire idea was to plant varieties that would stand up to the region’s climate and make interesting wines. Clearly, Continental varieties are not going to make it as was seen in the first iteration of the vineyard. But there are varieties from like areas in the Mediterranean which could. This is the point. Why plant chardonnay when it won’t do well? Plant something that will do well. There is not much of these two wines to be had. Do not dither.

DCorti 1 shot by Rick Mindermann Small 


Editor’s note: Author Darrell Corti is an internationally-known authority on wine and food. He is the proprietor of Corti Brothers, a specialty grocery and wine store in Sacramento started by his father and uncle in Sacramento in 1947. More information about Corti Brothers and about the New Clairvaux wines can be found at

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